GEORGE TOWN: It will take about five years to drill a tunnel from the hill face behind Kek Lok Si Temple to Paya Terubong.
Miners will drill into the hill “metre by metre” to ensure minimum impact to the environment and soil structure, said Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow.
“They will make small, controlled charges and shape the tunnel as they go. It’s not like quarry blasts,” he said.
Szeto Wai Loong, the project director of SRS Consortium, which is the project delivery partner of the Penang Transport Master Plan, explained that the technique is called chemical blasting.
“It is a chemical-based explosive, which is not the same as incendiary charges. We crack the rocks and then excavate.
“There will be no risk to any structures above ground as there is much less smoke and vibration. But it’s much more expensive,” he said in a press conference on Tuesday.
Asked if there was a way to keep the Pan Island Link (PIL) 1 section near Kek Lok Si and the Air Itam Dam completely underground, Szeto said that was impossible because of the valley from the dam to the old Ayer Itam town.
The current proposed alignment will see a six-lane tunnel from Penang City Park ending on one side of this valley, a 300m elevated highway across the valley and another tunnel created behind the 125-year-old monastery leading to Paya Terubong.
The work will involve the transportation of thousands of tonnes of excavated rubble through Jalan Balik Pulau, the steep and winding road that is the only way to Kek Lok Si and the Air Itam Dam.
Szeto said the planners were keenly aware of the challenges of transporting the rubble, adding: “We will do our best not to disrupt people’s lives. This includes working at night and not blocking the roads during peak hours.”
During the press conference, Chow was asked about the objection from some local NGO members, who argued that it was not worth the cost and effort just to be able to drive from Gurney Drive to the airport in 15 minutes.
“It may take just 15 minutes for one person. Multiply that by 1.6 million Penangites and six million tourists.
“How many man-hours lost in traffic congestion will Penang be able to save with PIL 1? How much more productivity will we gain from this?” Chow asked.